An Instagram Guide to Poland
default, An Instagram Guide to Poland, Mosaic on the side of Silesian Stadium in Chorzów, 1970, designed by: Henryk Holecki, Henryk Kobyliński, photo: Bartek Dworski / @slaski_modernizm, center, bartek-dworski-slaski-modernizm-dwo_0351.jpg
Local folklore, great architecture and retro details: local guides invite you on a tour of Poland, all with the help of Instagram. Culture.pl’s Michał Dąbrowski suggests some accounts that are definitely worth a follow.
Olga Drenda, the author of Duchologia Polska (Polish Hauntology) and Wyroby: Pomysłowość Wokół Nas (Crafts: Ingenuity Around Us) presents an Instagram full of playgrounds, old cinemas, colourful mosaics, magazine covers and 1001 other trifles. The hard-working anthropologist from Mikołów has attracted research fellows, lovers of reportage and thousands who yearn after the artefacts of Poland’s cultural past.
With retromania as popular as ever, there have been multiple grassroots initiatives to preserve the past. Not that many years ago, young photographers focussed their cameras on parties – now no one is surprised when the camera instead turns to local folklore and the creations it inspires.
How Polish Women Reclaimed Folk Art by Giving It an Urban Twist
Maciej Pietrukaniec’s Instagram features a collection of metalwork from before 1989. The feed is dominated by allotment fences, although you can also find window security bars, trashcans and other subtle details meant to beautify their surroundings.
When I requested permission from the author to use a few of his photos, he added:
Grow Your Own Beetroot: Poland's Allotment Culture
It would be nice if my photos were an occasion to recognise this neglected part of our visual culture, whose existence should be noted, if only for the sheer scale at which it is present [in our surroundings].
The gate on the right was created from part of an exhibition at the Turów Lignite Mine Museum in Bogatynia. When the exhibit was shut down, one of the workers, who also owned an allotment for gardening, requested the decoration, which he then fashioned into a gate. The top half represents the flora and fauna of the Pliocene, whilst the bottom half shows a worker mining for coal.
Beneath the Surface: The Occult Inspirations of Poland’s Legendary Naive Artist Coal Miners
‘We all live in small towns’ – this is the description that greets you on Maciek Cholewa’s Instagram, an artist born in Siemianowice Śląskie. Compared to Drenda’s account, there are fewer hauntological sentiments and more observations of contemporary life and situational humour. Here we’ll find a store named ‘Spoko’ (Chill), a bakery named ‘Grzybek’ (Mushroom) and a whole collection of characters from a non-existent fairy tale.
The owls in the photo on the right are just one example of creating a sense of humanity in the environment. Most of the photos come from Radzionków – the town that Cholewa treats as his workspace, as well as an important source of his inspiration. The artist, together with Wojciech Radwański, also created the page @r_a_d_z_i_o_n_k_o_w,where they post photos of the town taken with a drone.
10 Beautiful Old Towns in Poland You've Probably Never Heard Of
Cholewa, perhaps inspired by Pietrukaniec’s work, also creates gate designs. In his combination of socialist modernism and folk art, art critic Piotr Policht noted a ‘separate, lasting proposition of identity’.
It’s always a delight to see the tiny green gardens in front of large grey concrete apartment blocks. In these apartment-adjacent gardens, anything goes – both mini and maxi versions can be a source of joy. The creator of the Instagram also hosts a ‘Garden of the Month’ competition. We anxiously await the beginning of the season!
In Full Bloom: Poland’s 10 Most Beautiful Gardens
standardowy [760 px]
‘Górnik’ House in Sosnowiec and Jerzy Jarnuszewski’s bas-relief on a kindergarten near 4 Sowa Sreet in Mariensztat, Warsaw, photo: @polskisocrealizm
‘We prefer a weak sgraffito to colourful styrofoam’ – the creators of this page present examples of Polish socialist realism, mainly from 1949-1955. Justyna Pyta, Filip Lasocki and Marcin Skup all run the page together. Where did the idea come from?
The Art of Distortion: Polish Socialist Realist Cinema
If we don’t begin to talk about it, we’re facing a future of pastel-coloured buildings.
Other than architecture, you can also find sculptures, paintings and histories of the photographed items.
This Instagram page, co-hosted by Ola Poncyljusz and Michał Szałkiewicz, is perhaps a better advertisement for Szczecin than any local official could come up with. The two creators photograph historical landmarks, stairwells, details and decorations.
The pre-war buildings will thrill any Varsovian drowning in ‘French’ midtown architecture. The beautiful, detail-oriented photos are enhanced with poetic commentary – we recommend checking out their Stories. For Polish speakers, the history of the above photo is also available on their blog.
The Most Beautiful Building in Europe is in Szczecin!
Maciej Czarnecki, as he himself writes, photographs architecture that ‘doesn’t apologise’. Modernist, brutalist: machines for living and traces of past utopias. The Instagram account, followed by over 10,000 fans is worth checking out to admire the uneasy heritage of postmodernist architecture. Photos include monumental creations in Wałbrzych, Kraków and Gliwice, reminiscent of brutalist icons in Belgrade or perhaps Tbilisi. Considering the destruction of the station building in Kraków, it’s worth checking out the spaces that are still standing.
DIY Brutalist Architecture
standardowy [760 px]
Silesian Insurgents’ Monument in Katowice, in the background a major apartment complex on Korfantego Streets, 1967, designed by: Gustaw Zemła, Wojciech Zabłocki, photo: Bartek Dworski / @slaski_modernizm
Run by Bartek Dworski, this Instagram page shows landmarks (and more) in Silesia. There are buildings, sculptures and incredible mosaics. The creator ensured that, where possible, the caption includes the year of creation, name of the architect and exact address. Dworski also runs @le.nin.grad, where he showcases buildings from under communist rule.
9 Architectural Icons of Communist Poland
This page highlights screenshots of small towns caught by the mobile Google Maps’ cameras – this includes places such as Hajnówka, Trześcianka and Hrubieszów. The photos show moments of people fishing, a meeting near an empty sandbox and… a rabbit flying above a street. Even though Michael Wolf might have been the first to utilise Street View for artistic purposes, it’s still worth a look to see the goings on of Polish towns. This particular page is run by Monika Stpiczyńska.
For a few years, Agnieszka Pajączkowska drove a Volkswagen T3 from village to village, speaking to people, taking their portraits and printing them out on the spot. She gave out the photos free of charge, asking only for something to eat or a story. She later put together a book of the collected memories, photos and places, published by Czarne Publishing House. On her Instagram you can look through snapshots of her journey through Poland – this is a good occasion to discover distant places.
Nature in Contemporary Polish Art
Krzysztof Eberle is an inspiration for those who like to walk their own path. The photographer has lived in Warsaw for a few years and has taken to documenting the late-capitalist nature of the city. Amongst his photos you can find a decrepit shopping mall, monumental skyscrapers, neglected spaces in the centre of town or even photos of national celebrations taken from a distance.
Originally written in Polish, 20 Mar 2020, translated into English by AZ, 23 Mar 2020.
From Observation to Activism: Polish Nature Photography